Birmania - Myanmar
At least 200 Chinese and Burmese jade traders and brokers recently arrested by junta security forces at locations in Mandalay were yesterday charged under the Myanmar Gemstone Law, local lawyers have said.
Two houses in Maha Aung Myay and Aung Myay Tharzan townships were stormed by security forces on Dec. 20, with Mandalay-based media outlets putting the number of those detained at over 300. Motorcycles and other vehicles were also said to have been seized.
“Instead of physical trading, traders and brokers in town usually trade jade via WeChat accounts. This kind of business is usually conducted in Mandalay itself, since business in the Mandalay Jade Market is currently not good. As I heard, the group were arrested for illegal trading,” a jade broker in Mandalay told DVB.
The bulk of those arrested appear to consist of Chinese jade traders and Burmese brokers who had failed to adhere to new orders by the militay council attempting to channel all transactions made on the precious stone through the Mandalay Jade Market, were authorities had recently cracked down on those failing to pay lucrative sales taxes to the junta.
All those detained are currently being held at Mandalay’s Obo prison. None are reported to have been released.
“One of my friends was arrested that day because they didn’t trade inside the permitted area. This is the second time that this kind of raid occurred; two months ago, some of the traders and brokers were arrested and freed after they paid two lakhs [US$110],” a local with links to Mandalay’s jade trade told DVB.
This time around, reports suggest that those arrested have been told they must pay authorities significantly more to obtain their release.
“At first, they said K1 million [US$550] but when we went to Obo yesterday they raised it to K2.5 million [US$1,100] each. If failing to pay, the detainees have been told they will go to trial and be charged under the Gemstone Law. At the moment, none of them are out,” the man said of his friend’s arrest.
According to Mandalay lawyer Wai Phyo Mg Mg, all those taken from the Maha Aung Myay jade trading compound have since been charged under Section 51(B) and Section 54 of the Myanmar Gemstone Law—if convicted, violators face a maximum of three years imprisonment plus fines and the seizure of all gemstones retrieved by authorities in relation to the case.
Mandalay Jade Market is the world’s largest trading hub for the precious gem, of which Burma is said to produce 90% of all global supply. Local resistance forces had since the coup warned dealers and brokers to boycott the market, causing a substantial decline in transactions taxed by the junta.
In response, locals said that security forces had threatened to shoot dead anyone found trading outside the market.
In June, human rights group Global Witness published a report suggesting that, even before the coup, between 70-90% of all jade mined in the Hpakant region is smuggled into China “without ever entering the formal system in Myanmar”.
Rescuers leading search and rescue operations at the site of yesterday’s landslide in a Hpakant jade pit say they have only managed to recover two bodies from the rubble. Close by, four further corpses have been retrieved from the site of another landslide which hit on Dec. 18, said Ko Jack, a member of the local rescue team.
“We are working together in six search groups. We searched almost all day yesterday, and finished work in the evening, but we found only two bodies,” he said.
The landslide occurred when a 200-foot-high pile of mining waste collapsed at the Sein Sein Company’s Old Mining Block in Thayar Gone village early Wednesday morning.
“According to two men who escaped from the landslide, there were about over 50 people under the landslide, including two girls who were vendors. But, the two bodies are only male that we found and some of the families are waiting to see the bodies,” Ko Jack told DVB, who said that a small number of pickers survived after jumping into a lake that had formed at the base of the mining pit.
Yesterday, local sources at the pit-side told DVB that they believed over 100 people had been subsumed by the landslide.
The exact number of people missing is still unclear as nobody is tasked with taking a daily census of those working illegally in Hpakant’s mines. A local man told DVB that compiling such a list would be impossible.
The only way to gauge the impact of yesterday’s disaster is by counting those who have travelled to the mines in the hope of good news. Yesterday, local sources say that between 30 and 40 families waited in vain by the side of the pit, praying for the return of missing loved ones.
Rescue teams said that, after recovering only four bodies from an earlier landslide on Dec. 18, they would shift energies to recovering Wednesday’s dead. This latest landslide had added to the mining waste entombing the victims, Ko Jack said.
“Today’s disaster is a haunting reminder that lives too often come second to profit in the jade mines of Hpakant, where a toxic combination of lawlessness, conflict and corruption has set the stage for yet another preventable tragedy,” said Hanna Hindstrom, Senior Campaigner at human rights NGO, Global Witness.
“Hpakant has become a haven for illegal mining under the auspices of military battalions, police and armed groups who work together to extract fees from miners.”
The two landslides are merely the last tragedies to hit Hpakant’s mining communities. On July 2, 2020, between 150 to 200 people were killed when heavy rains triggered a similar toppling of a pile of mining waste. The accident is commonly viewed as Burma’s worst ever industrial disaster.
Hpakant—whose gemstones are an extremely important source of under the table lucre for the junta and its cronies—has seen a surge in conflict since the coup, with the junta imposing an internet blackout on the township since August.
At least three officers serving the Dagon Seikkan Central Police Station were allegedly killed this morning, as Yangon’s resistance groups staged a visible return to operations following a month-long lull in attacks.
“I heard two loud explosions at first and then came about 20 gunshots, including single shots and rounds from automatic rifles. I pray for the safety of our young gunmen,” one resident of Dagon Seikkan told DVB.
Civil Guerrilla Force (CGF-HTY) and Yangon Federal Army (YFA) took joint responsibility for the attack in which they claim three policemen were killed and another three were seriously wounded.
The groups purportedly used a M79 40mm grenade launcher during the ambush, and CGF-HTY has since uploaded a video to its Facebook page showing a young man firing two M19 40mm rounds across a busy street that resembles the location of Dagon Seikkan Central Police Station.
Following the attack, two young men who passed the station on a motorcycle were beaten and arrested, a source living near the station told Khit Thit media. The same source relayed seeing four ambulances drive into the police station in the aftermath of the attack.
Security forces reportedly blocked the surrounding area, ran arbitrary checks on passersby, and sent officers into the nearby Yuzana Garden City housing complex, already the scene of a large number of raids and arrests since the coup.
Notably, YFA announced that the attack was linked to the National Unity Government’s (NUG) Yangon Region Military Command’s (YRMC) “Operation Pyan Hlwar Aung”, or Operation Swallow, an ongoing campaign of high profile attacks on security force targets.
In November, extensive military raids that saw scores of Yangon PDF members detained (culminating in the capture of former rapper and NLD lawmaker, Zeya Thaw, accused by the junta of being the YRMC second-in-command), had prompted the junta to proclaim victory over resistance groups operating in Burma’s largest city.
Despite sporadic attacks—notably in the industrial township of Hlaingtharyar—news of audacious PDF activity in Yangon (comparable to the gory drive-bys, executions, and railway massacres of the months preceding) had, since the arrests, been few and far between.
This week, Yangon’s PDF groups appear to have bucked the downward trend; the attack on Dagon Seikkan’s central police station comes just hours after Yangon’s Dictator Revolt Front (DRF) claimed that it had laid landmines across Anawrahta Road in East Dagon, just shy of the center of Yangon. Similarly, local media outlets this morning reported that an explosion took place near Cargyi gate in Thingangyun township.
This new wave of attacks occurred shortly after security forces were observed patrolling the nighttime streets of Yangon (and elsewhere), optimistically declaring via loudspeaker that troops would allow citizens the rest of the year to hand over weapons and explosive devices.
DVB received reports that soldiers relayed the message in Dagon Seikkan, Latha, Lanmadaw and a number of other townships in both Yangon and Mandalay regions—it is unclear whether troops truly believe that anyone listening would have the spirit to endow them with early Christmas gifts.
At least ten people, including a number of PDF fighters, were killed after five military helicopters launched airstrikes over Yae Myat village in Sagaing’s Ye U township on Monday evening.
In an audaciously warped response, state media heralded the violence as a successful attack upon an inter-regional summit of various revolutionary factions that had been terrorizing villagers, whilst failing to acknowledge any casualties by its own hand.
Villagers recounted how security forces blocked exits to the village before opening fire at those trapped inside from the air, as a flight of helicopters strafed civilians.
Local sources told DVB how dozens of civilians were killed and injured whilst fleeing a hail of bullets.
A resident of Yae Myat confirmed that at least ten people, including villagers and PDF members, were killed and said that the final number could be higher.
“A man with a psychological illness was killed after becoming engulfed by flames. Troops circled the village in trucks, whilst fully armed soldiers deployed at [nearby] U Yin and Kaw Sat Kone villages. The number of dead may be higher as nobody yet dares to return to the Yae Myat. As many ran for their own safety, a lot of people scattered and have since gone missing—people are not sure if their family members are alive or dead,” another resident told DVB.
“I think the whole village has been turned to ash due to troops setting fire to villager’s houses.”
On Monday night, whilst failing to allude to the airstrikes and destruction, the state-owned MRTV channel was quick to implausibly announce that military forces had led the raid after receiving credible intelligence suggesting that over 100 people—including PDF, CDF, NLD, and KIA members—had gathered in Yae Myat for a summit on the morning of the attack.
Providing an account utterly at odds with reports received by DVB, junta television said that ground troops had led a raid on revolutionary forces in Yae Myat at 1 p.m., discovering the already expired corpses of four PDF fighters, plus weapons and improvised explosive devices.
Inverting reality, MRTV further claimed that security forces had carefully protected civilians and their homes from PDF groups, whose violence had caused villagers to flee.
Ye-U PDF labelled state media’s story as “disinformation”.
Those affected by the attacks in Ye U are in desperate need of food, shelter, and warm clothes, local news outlet, the Mawkun Magazine, reported. Sources say that a number of severely injured people may still be trapped inside the village by troops.